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Edward Burtynsky photos serve as environmental warning

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Large-scale photos by Edward Burtynsky, such as this image of an Indian reservation and a suburb in Arizona, showcase human effects on nature. (Courtesy Nicholas Metivier Gallery, Toronto/Rena Bransten Gallery, S.F.)

Edward Burtynsky isn’t your typical nature photographer: His works, often beautiful, also are arresting, functioning as a warning for humans to understand their drastically damaging effects on the environment.

His dramatic images are on view at Berkeley’s David Brower Center in “Art/Act: Edward Burtynsky,” a show coinciding with the center’s seventh annual Art/Act Award, which recognizes activism in art.

Organized by themes, the exhibit of about a dozen large-scale (4- to 6-feet across) prints, many of landscapes around the world shot from above, primarily addresses aspects of water.

Burtynsky, a Canadian whose works are in the National Gallery of Canada, the Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim Museum in New York, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in California, groups them in categories: “control,” “distressed,” “agriculture” and aquaculture.”

“Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Reservation/Suburb, Scottsdale, Arizona, 2011” illustrates changes development reaps: The reservation at the left shows a barren, brush-filled expanse, a huge contrast to the crammed suburb, packed with curvy streets, cul de sacs, homes and pools.

Some of the landscapes look like realistic representations: the water, hills and trees in an image of Shasta Lake Reservoir, for example. Yet a largely gray and black image called “Dryland Farming #1, Monegros County, Aregon, Spain” has the mesmerizing quality of an abstract painting, as do other works in the show, which also depict quarries (in Vermont) an oil field (in Azerbaijan) and a dam on the Yellow River in China.

One of the exhibit’s most provocative photos is of the fish farming industry in Asia: “Marine Aquaculture #2, Luoyan Bay, Fujian Province, China, 2012” is an eye-catching and colorful, yet creepy, photo of a floating city populated by shacks, buoys and tanks on bright blue water, set against a majestic mountain range.

Quotes from the photographer on the wall provide a succinct summation of his purpose and message. One says, “I document landscapes, that, whether you think of them as beautiful or monstrous, or as some strange combination of the two, are clearly not vistas of an inexhaustibly sustainable world.”

More of those views can be seen in four large books collecting Burtynsky’s work also on display: “China,” “Oil,” “Quarries” and “Water.”

IF YOU GO

Art/Act: Edward Burtynsky
Where: David Brower Center, 2150 Allston Way, Berkeley
When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Mondays-Fridays, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays; closes Feb. 4
Admission: Free
Contact: www.browercenter.org

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